Monday, July 31, 2006

A Past Gone Mad #5

It’s MTV’s 25th birthday tomorrow and to celebrate, VH1 Classic are broadcasting the entire first 24 hours of MTV’s output from August 1st 1981. As an appetizer this past week they’ve also been showing the first hour* as a stand-alone show at regular intervals. Now every child knows the first video played on MTV was Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star,” but what were the second, third, fourth, eleventh promos played? Well let’s just say it wasn’t an auspicious start.

Pat Benatar, “You Better Run”--drab soundstage, band-playing-as-live job, Pat doing her feisty chick thing.
Rod Stewart, title i forget-- same band as “Dya Think I’m Sexy” (the Japanese bassist who endearingly gets really into the disco walking B-line breakdown bit, the drummer with the unfortunate mustache) but this is more of your standard blues-tinged Rod horror. Soundstage/
as-live but with polka dot background for a bit of visual excitement.
The Who, “You Better You Better You Bet”. Compelling awful song, a feast of lyrical embarrassment (“and I look pretty crapp-ay sometimes”, etc). Video = dull soundstage as-live job, but black-and-white for what, an arty touch?
Ph.d. “Little Susie on the Up”. Who they?!? The first proper filmed video since Buggles--motorbikes, ballroom dancing at the Palais...
Cliff Richard, “We Don’t Talk Anymore”. Great song (actually quite Hall & Oatesy) but dull-ish if nicely spangly backdrop type affair.
Pretenders, “Brass In Pocket”. Filmed/semi-narrative (Chrissie as lovelorn waitress), quite cute (sings “I’m speshul, so speshul”, band members at table point to “special” on the menu), classic example of video forever tarnishing the song with specific images. (Did you know that the gorgeous gobbleydegook bit that sounds like “deterleenin” is actually “Detroit-leaning”?)
Todd Rundgren, “Time Heals”. Figures he would be a “video pioneer”. Excruciating clever-clever (for its time) special effects-y affair based around Dali and Magritte paintings--one of the most abysmal crap song/pretentious video combos ever. The singing is also dreadfully off-key.
Styx, “Rocking in Paradise”. A stage set but more stagey than most as this is Styx in their “paradise theater” rock-goes-show-tunes phase. Painful to watch, especially
the singer’s tight-crotched protuberance and Freddie Mercury aspirations.
REO Speedwagon, “Take It On the Run”. Live footage.
Robin Lane & the Chartbusters.Sub-Steve Nicks AOR-plod, but with a bizarrely high-budget video with a vaguely French Lieutenants Woman nautical period theme: yokels with tankards in taverns, seafarers, actual genuine galleon with sailors clambering in the rigging, cliffs, stormy seas, forsaken and shawl-clad singer on rocky promontory staring wistfully into the surf crashing on the breakers, etc. Plain sonic fare garbed in costume drama glad rags.
Split Enz. Also filmed, fairly clever for its day, although i can't remember anything about either promo or song except that there was a pronounced Yes/Genesis vibe to the tune concealed inside its New Waveyness, and indeed Split Enz actually started as proggers then jumped ship. which might explain why their (and Crowded House’s) melodies are so unpleasant, sort of wavering on the edge of melodic beauty but always falling short or to the side of it
38 Special. Live footage. Radio-pasteurised erstaz Allmans, right down to the two drummers and the hats (although perhaps those come more from Skynyrd). (I once bought a Molly Hatchet album after a friend described a Butthole Surfers song we saw them do at Lollapalooza as "kinda Molly Hatchet". Big mistake).

And that’s where I couldn’t take it any longer… but yes, a really inauspicious beginning and you can see how those videogenic/promo-savvy/glam-literate New Popsters really arrived in the nick of time... if MTV had carried on like that first hour it surely would have surely joined the great graveyard of botched and aborted cultural innovations.

* except not exactly as it was originally broadcast, some of the original veejays appear now and then but it’s framed by current VH1 Classic presenter Lynn Hoffman … now there's something quite odd about this woman, a disconcerting quality of anachronesis made flesh, cos she's like a retro-veejay: a calculated reversion back to the days before veejays (post-grunge) were chosen for their real-ness or for having a smidgeon of personality, instead she has that old skool TV presenter fakeness/blandness... she and fellow vh1 veej Eddie Trunk emit exactly the same modulated level of perky enthusiasm for everything they're introducing/interviewing , whether it’s a solo album by Smithereens frontman Pat Danizio or Joe Cocker or Gang of Four.... she particularly has that forced brightness of the American radio host (which is her pre-VH1 background) but rendered with facial expressions too.... the effect is either anachronetic or animatronic, i can't quite decide

Thursday, July 27, 2006

got this press release in my in-box yesterday:



Xan Valleys EP
Release Date: October tba 2006

Fresh from the U.K cult success of their debut single ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ earlier this year, Klaxons (that’s Jamie, Simon and James to their local Vicar) are now venturing Stateside with their offerings of post punk sensibilities with their deep love of Rave music described by Jaime as “the most short lived genre of all time. It never even existed” and classic Pop culture that sticks like knives out of their every chord change.

Resulting in an instant mind bending, shoe stomping hit hailed as “The most worthy indie dancefloor filler of the year” – NME . Touching down in 2006 from a place undetermined to wrestle the hearts and minds of the nations music lovers from last year’s seemingly all-pervading po-faced, post-punk moroseness. The band describe their sound as Josef K-meets-Baby D, with a twinkle in their eye, surely the first to mention those names in the same sentence. American audiences will immediately see the nod towards influential 90’s bands such as Happy Mondays and Altern8. Definitions aside, what you hear is post punk psychedelic pop that meets pill popping dance music and it sure works. “A trio with heads jam packed with ideas, ideas that layer influences and an imagination with genuine talent.” – Dazed & Confused

Xan Valleys EP lurches out demonically from a world of distortion and “drummatic” madness, stuffing the peaks and breakdowns into moments of a sheer pop meltdown. If ever a band were all about the moment, all about Myspace as a progression of rave cultures underground communication, and all about creating a live experience every bit as exhilarating as their singles, this is the Klaxons signature sound.The opening track Gravity’s Rainbow doesn’t mess around as it welcomes and steers the listener into an eerie world of pumping psychedelia combined with melodic and romantic vocals blissfully taking you on a pleasantly trippy ride through their wondrous world and another dimension that is Xan Valleys. One listen to ‘Atlantis To Interzone’ and the several miles of dots between those influences are quickly joined, where screaming sirens and samples straight out of a field in ‘89 give way to the punked out half-falsetto, half melodic breakneck vocals and drums.

Klaxon, a French verb meaning to “toot” certainly alludes to the raving mania of their audiences who frantically “get down” to the sounds with horns and whistles intact. But also the word’s origin is actually “a form of tribal drumming,” Simon says “used to communicate over long distances, pre- amplification and telephones.” Therefore, these London lads really are practicing the art of channeling a much loved yet equally forgotten musical era now reinvented and given back to us in the form of Klaxons.

MODULAR Releases Xan Valleys EP this October 06


1. Gravity’s Rainbow
2. Atlantis To Interzone
3. 4 Horsemen of 2012
4. The Bouncer
5. Gravity’s Rainbow Van She Remix
6. Atlantis To Interzone Crystal Castles Remix

it had to happen i spose

"Josef K-meets-Baby D"!

cover of "The Bouncer"!!

Dissensus thread on this here

and the band's myspace

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Slate piece by me on Hot Chip and Scritti and that British thing for black American music

i wrote it before they both made the shortlist for the Mercury Prize, but that just makes the pairing even more apt, as does Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor saying in the Independent the other day "I haven't heard a lot of the records, but I'm most pleased that Scritti Politti have got a mention."

it seems vaguely significant that my three favourite albums of the year so far--white bread, the warning, and burial s/t--are by white Britons (well I'm assuming that with Burial, but, well, I'd be surprised if otherwise the case) who have an intense and complex relationship with black street music... i couldn't tell you what the significance is precisely, but it probably ties back somehow to the complaints and worries in this frieze piece

talking of complaints and worries, here's another frieze piece--for their 100th issue they asked people to opine about the state of various forms of arts criticism, and i did the one on pop music writing
... and geeta too on the delights of record-fiending on a deliberately restricted budget, finding treasure in the $1 dollar bins.... always heart-warming to know there's still a few record stores out there who don't know what things are worth

Monday, July 24, 2006

Carl Neville launches his blog the Impostume with a hilarious and poignant meditation on the controversial practice known as Wyatting (ie. approximately 97 percent of his comments to the interviewer that never made it into the Guardian expose) followed by a hilarious and slightly poignant meditation on the perils of being both a music fiend and a tightwad. Check out some of Carl's other writings...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Things of interest in New York magazine’s cover story (by Jennifer Senior) on “the burgeoning field of happiness studies”

* the phrase “the hedonic treadmill” (coined by Philip Brickman, a happiness researcher, who, in a hideous irony, later threw himself off the top of the tallest building in Ann Arbor)
which Senior defines as “the unending hunger for the next acquisition” but which made me think of the whole “havin’ it” piggies-at-the-polydrug-trough rut that rave degenerated into when it became a superclub thing and lost any sense of collective mission

* the argument of Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, that (in Senior’s words) “a superabundance of options is not a blessing but a certain recipe for madness”; his book cites a study involving jam, in which a researcher “set out six different kinds in a high-end gourmet store. She invited people to try them, promising them a dollar off any jar they liked. The next weekend, she did the same, but laid out 24 different kinds. More people tried the jam the weekend there were 24, but only 3 percent of the samplers bought any. The weekend there were six jars, by contrast, 30 percent of the samplers bought some.” Which naturally made me think of i-Pods/download-mania/sharity blogs/etc and the virtues of a scarcity-based cultural economy...

* the ideas of “positive psychology” pioneer Martin Seligman, who “makes the critical distinction between pleasures, which make us feel good, and gratifications, which, oddly, may not involve positive emotions at all, but rather the blunting of them. Eating a Mars Bar is a pleasure; doing something that engages or enhances our strengths is a gratification, whether it’s swimming, welding, or listening to a friend in need. Optimally, when we’re in a state of high gratification, we’re experiencing what Seligman’s colleague, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “cheeks sent me high”), calls flow—a state of total absorption, when time seems to stop and the self deserts us completely.”

This reminded me of K-punk’s recently aired concept of depressive hedonia. And the bit about flow/absorption chimed with my experience that work does indeed make free. One of my big stumbling blocks with the Situationists was that they envisioned utopia coming through total automation and the abolition of work, resulting in a life of perpetual play and pleasure-seeking indolence. What a horrendous prospect! Obviously soul-crushing menial toil, Fordist cog in the machine grind, bureaucratic futility/fatuity, etc etc, could well be dispensed with, but self-directed purposive exertion and/or meaningful collective activity—these be bliss!

(No coincidence surely that buzzphrases and expressions involving the word “work” have such a libidinal charge in dance culture; someone, howard hampton i think, once sneered at rave as "aerobic mysticism" or somesuch dismissive phrase, but that's what's good about it: a collective work-out, almost a massive construction project, building a "moment", a temple of

I’d almost describe myself as a workaholic. Except that I’m also appallingly lazy. Vast swathes of my working day involves procrastination and various forms of skiving. Paradoxically, I spend most of my time putting off as long as I can the moment of entering into the very state-of-being—mono-focused immersion in something effort-ful and productive--that I find most satisfying. Now if that isn’t proof that there’s some deep-seated perversity in human beings that makes them ill-equipped for happiness I don’t know what is.
vocal extremism--i forgot about david hykes and the harmonic choir

you got to love this blog


Charles Dodge - Synthesized Voices (1976)

Maja Ratkje -- Voice (Rune Grammofon)

Bob Cobbings (nominated by Carl Neville the impostume)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

... and owen chips in

more from k-punk on scritti and the voice
[i must read that Dolar]
[i think this thing of voice-as-hinge between abjectly moist pulsional/pulmonary interiority and transcendence/abstraction/nonhuman & inorganic realms of alien otherness, that's the reason i'm so interested in and affected by the avant-classical vocal-extremism thing, whether choirs--Ligeti's stuff--or solo--joan la barbara doing morton subnotik, cathy berberian doing berio, meredith monk, et al -- then there's that whole other realm of freejazz voice (patty waters, phil minton), edge-of-rock voice-sculpture ([tim buckley "starsailor"), furious pig, tuvan whatnot, shamanic this'n'that.... i think i mentioned here before long time ago my fantasy project, a box set of outer-limits extremists of the human voice -- any suggestions for candidates?]

and also on dubstep
[is it just me or is the whole Bass Theology thing getting a bit tired, both as sonic praxis and a belief system? the ideas have something of a lived-in air about them at this late hour... i was at Dub War's ist birthday
bash(ment) coupla weeks back, excellent vibe, good fun, but the way people got worked up about the most bog-standard eruptions of low-end was quite bizarre, it seemed out of proportion to what was actually being done in terms of creativity or impact... and it was very much case that the tracks that stood out through the night were the ones with something going on in the treble zone, those "high end flitting sounds" Kpunk identifies in Skream, or flickering dub-tingles in the intro.... that's where the rush comes in for me, these intermittent echoes in dubstep of 2step's great innovation, its discovery of the mind-altering properties of excessive treble... whereas when the bass heaves itself into view i often felt insufficiently whelmed, "that's it?!"]

K-punk also directs us to a great john foxx interview over at the Ballardian website.
[the interviewer, Simon Sellars, has asked about doing one with me at some point about the postpunk/Ballard nexus; i warned him i probably don't have a lot of cogent things to say, although s.f. of the non-pulp/Sixties-new-wave-of-sf was the big thing i was into just before i got into music. also mentioned a fantasy project of mine from a few years back: a dual-biography-of-ideas about Ballard and Eno as the two greatest British thinkers of the second half of the 20th Century. (that's probably a monstrous exaggeration, but certainly they could claim to jointly bestride that perhaps most interesting decade of them all, the 70s. and they both have a certain un-eradicable Englishness... Ballard with his whiskey and soda... one mystery, addressed elsewhere on Ballardian, is that JG talks of having virtually no feeling for music and really trite, non-vanguard taste in music). Trouble with such a twin-biography is that Eno and Ballard are both so aware of what they do and so copiously eloquent about it, that a critic could bring little to the table.... ]

and while we're on the subject, ever visited the other Kpunk?
still chuckling over this
the frenzied debate over "Wyatting" escalates in intensity
RIP Syd Barrett

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The missing epigraph for K-punk's superb reading of the new Scritti album

"And as regards, say, the "sweetness" of 'The "Sweetest Girl"'... well, I think there is a dirt, a criminality if you like, in sweetness itself"--Green Gartside

(from Scritti Politti interview by Barney Hoskyns, NME, 31 October 1981)

I dunno though, the more I listen to the album, the more I pick up on what seem like partially secreted references to specific misdeeds and actual epiphanies in Green's dare one say it real life--"looks like maybe we'll lose our home", "gonna steal your money", "first i hit a rock, then i hit a roll, then i'm hitting on you", the monkey in one song, the blood from a spoon in another, the "coca" in "Petrococadollar" ... a lot of these stray lyrics sounds like glancingly oblique
confessions of bad bad things one might do under various influences or long-term dire consequences of sustained dissolution.... indeed talking to Green i got the sense that a lot of the lines could be indexed to actual biographical correlates*, albeit ellipitically processed and scattered through songs, which seem to generally flit around a lot rather tell a story.... but when you add it all up you do get a kind of story of what he's been through...

there's a kind of dance of the seven veils going on in the songs, a now-you-see-me-now-you-don't tease that is as sublimely seductive as ever he was but is of a different order to the abstracted lexical labyrinths of Songs and Cupid and Provision

In a way it's more self-subversive of Green to go in for this veiled autobiography than if he'd really just picked up where Cupid left off and recapitulated the old concerns (the weakest stuff on White Bread is precisely that kind of wordplayful stuff about ontological drift, that sort of slightly smug and inappropriately comfy-sounding anomie e.g. "make a record of my own undoing", "been longing too long a time" etc)... what makes it not cosy are the recurring notes of shame, regret, waste...

The voice is the thing, as Mark says, the multi-tracking into a hall of mirrors, the gorgeously dovetailed harmonising with himself, the feline self-caressing narcissism.... those accapella codas that some of the songs on White Bread have ... the sheer size of the voice in the mix, unnervingly upfront, asphyxiatingly intimate, criminally cloying....

Fibre-free bread and beer: nutritionally speaking, given or take the B-vitamins in the Guinness, you almost might as well shovel spoonfuls of sugar down your gullet... Refined carbohydrates turn to blood sugar almost instantly don't they.

White Bread: you could say that Green removes the wholesome Grain of the Voice as theorised by Barthes, the element that bypasses or undercuts through all the expressive artfulness of singing and instead comes directly from "the body of the cantor", from pre-culture/pre-langue

and yet even at its most ethereal, the voice is where the Real of breath/ exertion/physical longing-loathing-fear/embodied-will meets the textual machinery of the lover's discourse/utopian politics/religion/etc

it's the uncanny hinge between presence and absence

Michael Jackson circa Off the Wall replaced Robert Wyatt as Green's vocal model during the shift from messthetics to meta-soul... and here's another Barney Hoskyns quote on MJ (you can access all this stuff at Rock's Back Pages, only if you become a subscriber though):

"It's a voice which starts into every split spare second, stretching like rubber, filling cracks like water. It's not warm or sensual or "black" but sharp, a squeezing of the throat's aperture, a voice of pure technique. Detaching itself, it gets lost in free flight. Its narcissism is almost not human. "-- NME, 17 September 1983

* other allusions are just weirdly concrete... like "Dr Abernathy". In the interview i did Green himself brought up the idea that this seems like a reference to Martin Luther King's right-hand man Ralph David Abernathy-- recalling with a chuckle that at one of the recent Scritti gigs a fan had come up and started nodding knowingly and going "yeah, yeah, Dr Abernathy, Martin Luther King's doctor, right?". But Green then denied that it was a reference to him or that he'd even known about the guy (who basically took over after King's assassination**). And yet if it's just a name plucked out of thin air, it seems freakishly resonant, when you think about the role of soul as a replacement for political faith in Green's life ("faithless now, just got soul", 'pray like aretha franklin", "my songs are hymns for agnostics, for the disillusioned like myself") , the link between gospel and soul, and the role of Black Christianity in the Civil Rights movement, the march to the promised land etc.

And the last line attempts to connect "all prophecy will fail" with Derrida-via-Benjamin's "weak messianic power"... but gives up.

* * in Memphis a few months ago i chanced upon the Lorraine motel, which has been turned into the National Civil Rights Museum museum, the front preserved exactly as it was that day King stepped out his room and onto the balcony/walkway where he was shot, right down to his car in the parking lot directly below . I didn't know any of this though and as we were wandering down this boulevard (which is where the city's art galleries cluster nowadays) out of the corner of my eye i saw this motel and its deck-access walkway and the car lot, so uncannily familiar from documentaries and TV footage, it was a cold shudder moment of deja vu and slow-dawning recognition. Equally eerie: standing directly under the trajectory line of the bullets.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

new Rip It Up footnotes: Cleveland/Akron: Ubu/Devo and New York No Wave

and check out the Music Issue of Modern Painters for a piece by me on late 70s/early 80s New York's cross(down)town traffic between the art and rock worlds. They dug up some cool pix including the one of DNA's Robin Crutchfield with miniature dolls stuck all over his body.